Jessica Maloney–a digital artist with a photographic background–uses her toolbox of talent to capture transformative moments in time. Maloney creates psychic imprints of a woman’s life, resulting in permutations of imagery that have kinetic, lyrical implications, even in their most muted, polemic states. Of her diverse portfolio, Maloney says “The contrasts and analogies that are present in my work help the viewer and myself examine incorporeal concepts of a spiritual, psychological, and mental nature.” This, Maloney says, offers a pathway “…to better understand the intangible…” by building upon “a very physical, familiar, visual vocabulary.”
An interview with Jessica Maloney
by Max Eternity
Max Eternity (ME): Hi Jessica, welcome to AD Mag
Jessica Mahoney (JM): Hello Max. I am happy to have the opportunity to talk with you.
ME: In a moment I’d like to talk about some of your art, which I find interesting in the way you use photography—the employ of feminine forms, but first I’d like to ask how you got into digital art?
JM: Well, I began with a BFA in traditional photography and a minor in digital art. After a year in the workforce I realized that digital art was just as strong a part of my life as photography was and I decided to go back to school to spend time focusing on my digital body of work while receiving my MFA. My initial attraction to digital art came through the use of Adobe Photoshop and the magical process of being able to transform my traditional photographs, but also the fact that I could then use the flatbed scanner as a type of camera as well. Both degrees were received from Bowling Green State University.
ME: Art Digital Magazine, also known as AD Mag, was created in 2008 as a digital publication to showcase artists working with digital mediums. And yet, like myself, there seems to be a separate group of artists who are using a variety of mediums, incorporating the digital seamlessly into that which pre-exists. I came up with a theory called TADAE, because I felt that the existing language was inadequate. Your thoughts on this?
JM: It has always been hard for me to define myself artistically because of my use of digital and traditional materials. What I do cannot be defined as a purely digital medium, yet the term mixed-media somehow didn’t capture it fully either because it seems to imply the mixing of traditional media. So, your theory, though a bit complex, does seem to help with the identity crisis some artists are experiencing.
ME: In addition to being and artist, you are also an educator? Could you tell us about that? Too, it is also my observation that many artists in the digital-age are involved with art at many levels, whether they are writers like me, or they are professional educators. It’s as if it is not enough to stop at simply being an artist. Yes, no?
JM: I am an Assistant Professor at Ashland University in Digital Arts and Foundations. I feel that being involved with education is a wonderful benefit in that it not only allows me the time and support to create my artwork, but teaching is also the best way to learn. Every situation my students encounter forces me to question my own approach to, and thoughts on, art as well. Realistically, although I enjoy what I do, being employed outside of the purely artistic realm is a financial necessity as well. I think that as a responsible adult who needs to pay the bills simply being an artist at this point in my artistic career would be a very difficult thing to achieve.
ME: Digital Art Revolution is the website where I initially discovered your work. At first I was under the impression that the project was some sort of book collaboration that a group of artist worked on together, however after meeting Ligon myself, I know otherwise. He just completed an article for AD MAG.
JM: I was contacted by Scott Ligon, the author of Digital Art Revolution, about being included in his book. Ligon is currently an artist and professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, His overview of the book is that it is, “a book about creating digital art in Photoshop and developing a distinctive, personal approach to digital artwork.” The book contains information about digital artists around the world and discusses digital art technique in relation to fine art practices.
ME: So what about education? I’m not sure of your age or race, yet do you find that age matters when it comes to who feels most comfortable with a digital environment? I ask this for a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve discovered in my own research that Blacks are less likely to have access to computers and broadband than Whites. And I recently wrote an article entitled “Electronic Apartheid” about the ethnic aspect of that subject, and I’ve also just read an article entitled “On the Front Lines of the Digital Divide” by Susan Nemitz—Library Director of Ramsey County, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area—about the age aspect of that subject, the digital divide.
This month—March—is Women’s History Month, which brings up the other reason, that I’ve found in my capacity as the editor and publisher of this magazine, it’s harder for me to find a balance of women to interview, in comparison to men. Most alarmingly, in the last year or so, I haven’t been able to find a single prominent black woman in this arena, although I did interview a woman of Asian-American decent recently. I realize this is a complex question, but take a stab at it if you will. Where to do you see the digital with age, race, class and gender?
JM: You are correct – it is indeed a complex question. Speaking from personal experience in the classroom and in the professional art realm I am surprised to learn that you have had problems finding female artists to interview. I have found that the number of females that have participated in conferences, gallery shows, and as students in the classroom have often times matched if not outnumbered the male population. My experience in the classroom with race is a difficult one to assess because I teach at a small university with limited diversity. As far as age is concerned, it all depends on accessibility to the technology. I have been introduced to the work of quite a few older digital artists over the years and am always amazed how readily they seemed to have transferred their creative curiosity from traditional media to digital media. With such a large topic here I feel my answer is just scratching the surface but hopefully this answers your question in part.
ME: I was stuck earlier when you said “teaching is the best way to learn.” It’s an interesting thing to say. How did you arrive at this view?
JM: When I am teaching a subject, I try to anticipate what types of questions the students may ask. In doing so, I often research subjects more thoroughly than I would otherwise have a need to. I may know a lot about a particular subject matter, but many times while creating I operate in a very intuitive manner. Having to articulate this information while teaching, encourages me to think about things from a more analytical perspective.
ME: So let’s talk about some of your work. You are a photographer, and in looking at your images, I would say that’s fairly obvious. And yet the expressiveness of your work is unique. Could you talk about the “Holding Pattern Series”? What’s going on there—what’s that woman doing standing around in all those juxtaposed positions?
JM: “Holding Patterns” references the circular pattern that planes are forced to fly in when they are waiting to land. This struck me as a perfect metaphor for those times in life when one feels that are stuck between points A and B – existing in a perpetual state of in-between The diptychs and sequences in “Holding Patterns” explores the tension that forms when you don’t have your feet planted firmly in one place or the other. The female figure’s face is never seen because the photographs are more about her actions rather than her identity. The actions of spinning, walking in opposite directions, or wringing one’s hands are all psychological portraits of sorts, as are the empty spaces left behind.
ME: You prior mentioned employing scanners as a type of camera, which by the way I’ve begun to think of all capturing devices as photo-imagers or capturers. I know well what a scanner is and does, but perhaps for those less familiar, how is it different from a camera, and what can it do that a camera does not?
JM: Flatbed scanners have a much shallower depth of field in comparison to a camera. Because of this limitation, scanners are best used to capture texture and surface details while a camera can be used to depict foreground, middle ground, and background within an image. One can capture some amazing detail with the macro settings on a camera but the scanner allows that detail resolution to be manipulated to a much greater degree – giving the user the ability to enlarge minute details while maintaining crisp image quality.
ME: I love the piece “Looking Back on Tomorrow” and the piece “Kinetic Journey: Exploration through Memory.” They are both like sequences or flashbacks through one’s life. What’s this work about, and are we seeing both the camera and scanner at play here?
JM: These wall installations were both created using video stills of digital video I shot while in Italy during a study abroad opportunity in grad school. I had taken a class the semester before called “The Art of the Sequence”, which had brought my interests in the connections between sequence, memory, and perception, to the surface. Upon returning to the States events that occurred in Italy only existed in my memory and by taking out select still frames from videos shot of day to day activities – it was if I was able to make my distant memories tangible. These memories then became transformed and manipulated once placed within the installation.
The installations were a visual representation of the process of memory. They were repeated and rearranged as memories often are. Each image was printed using a non-archival printer and then copied on the copy machine in order to emphasize their impermanent existence. The organic edges and fluid motion within each installation encourages the viewer to enter and exit anywhere within the piece – making their own journeys and connections within my own personal memories.
ME: There’s a piece you created called “Within.” I’m hesitant to call it a landscape piece, but for lack of a better word, that’s what it seems to be. The birds, and the very simple house in this image, reoccurs in other pieces, like “Impact” and “Embrace”, all suggesting a narrative of some sort. There’s something dream-ish happening, giving the viewer a kind of floating out-of-body sensation. Would you say that’s a good description? Could you talk about this?
JM: I would say that is an accurate description. The houses in these images represent individual lives. Our stories often unfold within these structures and to me home has always been a safe place to reside. Birds often find their way into my work as well, always representing the spirit or soul.
The image “Within” depicts two house forms yet the placement of these forms within space is somewhat obscured. Whether you view them as being placed across a large expanse of land or as the smaller house existing on the surface with the larger house buried underneath – the fact remains that there is both a sense of separation and connection between the two. I think this is what I want the viewer to take away.
On a more personal level, this work is about the passing away of my grandmother and the fact that her spirit exists within me.
ME: Greif can be instrumental in creating new works of art. That has been my experience too. So again in “Sprit Fields” one, two and three, we see the birds reappear. They look like the same birds—crows perhaps–but now the house is replaced with a dress that’s moving about. Yet the dress is missing its wearer. Where is the person that would be wearing this dress, or is that the point…no person, just a spirit?
JM: Correct again. The dress references the body but the body does not exist – thus leaving us with the movement or the energy that exists within the body – otherwise known as the spirit. The term “field” can be thought of as a wide open space, often in terms of land but can also be used in reference to energy or things of a more intangible nature.
I spent a while living in Tucson, Arizona after grad school and the vast expanse of earth and sky that surrounded me out there felt very spiritual to me. The “Spirit Field” pieces arose from this experience.
ME: So, one of my favorite artists, Kandinsky, wrote this book years ago called “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” And in your artist statement–on your website–you write about building up a physical vocabulary to aid in examining spiritual and psychological concepts. I’m comfortable speaking about this, but some people get a little skittish on metaphysical topics. Notwithstanding, how do you define the spiritual, and what place does it have in art?
JM: I don’t know that I can define spiritual for everyone because I feel that is a very personal thing. However, I view it as being any experience that makes me aware of a greater power at work. Of course, this is all speaking on a very intuitive level. Since spirituality is so individualized and art is such a powerful subjective communicator – I believe that art is a perfect vehicle for spiritual connections and conversations.
ME: In closing, I’d like to ask about a piece that’s a sort of wall sculpture, called “Chrysalis.” Looking at the photos online it’s hard to tell what this “soft sculpture” is made of. Could you describe the work—what it means?
JM: “Chrysalis” is made of linen that I hand-stitched and dyed with tea. The only digital aspect of this work is a small digital transfer of a butterfly on the bottom pillow. I stitched an outline of part of a backbone on each pillow. I was drawn to the contrast between the strength of the backbone and the comfort of a worn pillow. We often times seek comfort in the strength of others and in difficult times if we look hard enough we can also find that strength within ourselves.
I struggled with the title quite a bit on this one but finally settled on “Chrysalis” because the goddess Psyche in Greek mythology is represented as having butterfly wings. This visual lead me to make the connection between struggle, spirit, and transformation, which is what I was trying to get across in this piece.
ME: Jessica, thank you so much for your time, and I wish you all the best in your career.
JM: Thank you Max for all of the thought provoking questions. I wish you all the best as well.